If you have ever gone mountain biking then you know if you are looking down your front wheel, you aren’t looking out far enough ahead. You’ll be at the obstacle by the time you see it. Many businesses today do just that. They look directly at the marketplace KNOWNS and react to what is immediately happening. Unfortunately it’s often too little, too late and this strategy doesn’t allow you to see around the bend in a constantly changing environment.

A better strategy, just like mountain biking, is to pick a line; get your head up and look ahead 7-10 feet in front of your path. If your company is looking ahead, at GLIMPSES, you are able to more easily see obstructions and changes in the marketplace that will impact your business. Allowing you to move more effectively toward where you want to go and avoid where you don’t. 

PINE routinely sees industry trends reports that call out specific themes and presents them as if they are new and you could react to them. However, to us many of these themes are things that the market has already reacted to. What they call trends, we call KNOWNS

In an effort to stay ahead we believe you have to look for GLIMPSES into the future. PINE uses principles from strategic forecasting like STEEP to create and identify GLIMPSES. We then create design fictions to illustrate how opportunity could be captured by our clients from these KNOWNS and GLIMPSES.

This approach has been successfully applied to much of our client work. It is at the core of our OPPORTUNITY-CENTERED DESIGN where the overlap of Knowns and Glimpses creates future success. 

If you would like to learn more about our process, how we view the world or find the KNOWNS, GLIMPSES and opportunities right for your business, please reach out.  P.S. And if you like mountain biking, here’s the link to a short highlight reel from the 2019 Red Bull Rampage in Utah.

Ecommerce finally moves forward

Ecommerce may be finally stepping into a new era. In 1999, a group of colleagues and I built an ecommerce site for a wallpaper retailer. Sadly, not much on the front end design of Ecommerce sites has changed since then; scroll down, find a product, add to cart and keep shopping. Yawn… wake me when it gets fun. Innovation for the most part has been focused on the backend with the obvious goal of selling stuff as quickly and easily as possible.

Personalization comes to life…

Gucci Live

However, Gucci’s new personalized video shopping may have just changed all that (No yawn)! Ecommerce efforts in social media (Pinterest, Instagram, Tik Tok) have given new hope and life into bringing the emotion back to ecommerce shopping. However they have still not evolved a real-time human connection until now. Gucci’s Live, a new online service brings the advisor to the customer. The new effort allows Gucci to be more present (human) in the lives of its customers, when and where they want it (technology).

Marco Bizzarri, Gucci president and CEO, said in a statement when Gucci 9 opened. “The service is delivered according to the values that define and differentiate our brand today: a human touch powered by technology.”

Democratizing personalization

In the near-term this level of service is a stretch for most mass retailers as they continue to use human associates. Creative ones like Gucci will integrate influencers, major stars, etc and perhaps even charge a premium for exclusive ‘remote’ shopping experiences. However, we ultimately believe this could easily trickle down to retailers like Target

Positive COVID impacts

COVID made remote video a reality overnight. The reality of a remote shopping spree with friends in different cities around the world no longer seems like science fiction. This gets us excited about a whole new possibility for Ecommerce!

PINE

At PINE we are always looking ahead for what the future might look like, we call these  GLIMPSES. We help Fortune 100 companies translate GLIMPSES into actionable strategies and implementable experiences. 

Special thanks to co-author John Youger

Over the weekend I had some initial thoughts on the impact of COVID.  For the most part, the degree to which any change happens will depend on the duration of stay-at-home. However, here are Glimpses into where we could see impact, regardless of how much time passes.

New Collaborations
Think about the companies or people who have worked together under duress (e.g. Ford and GE Healthcare). New bonds are developed, processes crafted, methods observed and learnings created; likely shedding light on new possibilities. 

Public Intimacy
When the pandemic slows and people return to their post COVID lives, I think there will be a yearning for being in public but, for many, a desire for an intimate way to do so.  For public spaces, restaurants and the like, this could be different layouts, seating design and service options.  What comes to mind are pods, closed booths or drive-up in car dining. These could start as temporary solutions that gain some ground.  Private Karaoke rooms never looked so good. 

Automation
Many businesses have had to make do with less.  Others, such as grocers, have had to keep truckin’ through the storm. Leaders of these companies are undoubtedly going to reflect on where humans were necessary and where humans were a potential weakness and avoidable expense.  I think we’ll see an acceleration of automation across airline, hospitality, retail and restaurant.  And btw, a push for people to use their own devices versus in-store hardware. 

Workers’ Rights
Services workers who worked through COVID will have a renewed sense of confidence but with mixed emotions.  They’ll put up a bigger fight for rights and win in the near-term.  But if they put up too much fuss, the effort to automate their jobs will only accelerate.

Remoteness
From voting to working, during the pandemic, we all realize we can do a lot of things without being in person. I think there will be an awareness that meeting remotely is entirely possible, plausible and sensible.  And we will have to take a hard look at what happens in person and why. *And that virtual happy hours shouldn’t only happen in pandemics.

White-Collar Work Week
When companies and people realize they can do way more with less and in less time, the work week will become more fluid. It is ridiculous that our work (and schools) are built on a 100-year model.  It’s time we evolve, we don’t drive Model-T’s still, do we?

Free-Range Kids
This thought was influenced by an article I came across in the New York Post. Many fortunate families with the means to give their kids some normalcy during this time will see their kids’ creativity and resilience grow much faster than it would in school.  Those “free-range” kids will play more, have less structure and be forced into unfamiliar situations, both positive and challenging. We might also wonder what this would have looked liked before Xboxes, Switches and any other screens. 

Travel
I believe we will see even less discovery and travel among Americans, especially to far away places.  The travel that people do take will be to visit family and see other states, trusting they’ll be safer here than abroad.  Over time, I hope that changes. America, now more than ever, needs a population who’ve experienced different cultures and peoples. 

Revisiting Entrepreneurship
I was shocked to learn how little solvency U.S. small businesses have.  This crisis will decimate many of them.  While working for a large business isn’t always secure, as evident by the furloughs and layoffs, striking out on your own is not for the faint of heart.  This crisis will dissuade people from starting businesses for a few years, well beyond the economic recovery.  

Belief in Experts
It’s scary when you have a growing number of people claiming their personal opinions hold equal weight to the opinions of experts.  While I think it’s an uphill battle, we will hopefully reverse the trend and show that there is such a thing as expertise and it should not be ignored. 

Relevant Government 
After seeing the way our Federal government is reacting and the wide differences among State and Local governments’ reactions, we will question the role of government more than ever.  And the arguments on both sides will become more polarizing. 

A Vision for America (even a Vision for the World)
I don’t think Simon Sinek was the first to ask about our Why.  However, he was the first to put it on our radars with such clarity and achieve unprecedented reach. Suddenly, looking for purpose went deeper than a typical branding exercise.  I think very soon, the younger generations will start to ask themselves and each other about America’s “Why”. We’ve never seen a long-term plan, we’ve never understood our mission, we don’t really get our “Why”.  The same people wanting to buy brands with strong Why’s will soon seek that from America.  We already hear the rumblings, it will only increase as time goes on and the impact of this pandemic imprints itself on our psyche. 

Thanks for reading. Feel free to reach out to discuss, debate or comment by emailing me: raj.shroff@pinesd.com

I really hate missed opportunities.  One area in retail that comes to mind as a missed opportunity for me is Beverage. You know, coconut water, sparkling water, sparkling tea, regular tea, cold brews, energy drinks and on and on.  Beverage is a category long overdue for an overhaul in stores. It is exciting, there are plenty of choices and consumption is attached to some of our best sensations throughout the day.  However, retailers treat it like it’s a snoozer.

It’s all a blur.

The transition of basic household items like laundry detergent, paper towels, toilet paper and other regime products from being purchased in store to online is causing (or will soon cause) space allocated to them to shrink.

Retailers should fill some of this freed up space with, you got it… beverages. Retailers have long made areas like meats, cheeses and fresh foods experiential destinations for shoppers to sample and learn about new products. Definitely because they are purchased more frequently but also because there is more emotion associated to their consumption occasions.  Beverages are just as associated with emotion and positive sensations we have throughout the day.

Can you envision an experiential beverage section…No? Let me give it a try. Think of your local brewery; no matter where you are, you likely have more than one in your neighborhood. You can walk in and try from a range of different samples, each time you visit, there are seemingly new options to try. Or think of your local ice cream shop where you can try a dozen samples before choosing what’s right for you that visit.

Now imagine creating an experiential area where shoppers can engage with new and different beverages in fun ways. Just think of the possibilities. 

You could even take it one step further, imagine getting really creative and integrated beverages into other experiential sections of the store and getting people to engage with the myriad of options available to quench your thirst, start your morning or give you an afternoon pick up. Maybe you look at ways to pair beverages with food or bring beverages to new occasions. This would ultimately lead to wider category exploration, new product adoptions and new consumption rituals, over time growing basket.

It feels like this would be a big step away from the traditional boring aisle of beverages with little to no signage and no reason to engage. As retailers look to differentiate themselves further and find items and categories they can build experiences around, it sure feels like beverages are being overlooked. BTW this is starting to make me thirsty. 

Drink on.  

Thanks for reading. If you want to discuss, debate or share, email me
at Raj.Shroff@pinesd.com

If you are reading this you probably already know that the PINE team loves to travel.  We spend a lot of time on the road because we enjoy seeing and experiencing new things. We know all the fresh inputs lead to better outputs for ourselves and our clients. 

One of our more noteworthy work experiences this year happened when we visited a store called Foodhall, in Mumbai, India.  Foodhall is a premium lifestyle food superstore that was started in 2011 by the Future Group of India.  Future Group’s founder, Kishore Biyani, started other successful retail ventures including Pantaloons and Big Bazaar.  Some say he is India’s Sam Walton.  

The store we visited, the concept’s largest, opened in December of last year.  It’s a 25,000 square foot space, in Bandra, an upscale suburb of Mumbai. It caters to the wealthy class of Mumbai; the prices are beyond the reach of the average Indian consumer.  Here you will see the occasional sari on a middle-aged woman, but more often than not, torn jeans, t-shirts and Apple Watches, is what the young and old are wearing. 

At it’s core, it’s a grocery store.  But it attempts to push well beyond that idea. This particular site has 4 stories and a basement.  Full assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, packaged goods and cooking related general merchandise.  Sprinkled through the store are little bars or stations, some with seating, where you can get smoothies, coffee, teas, fresh baked goods and confections. Shopper enter at ground level and are met by a full assortment of fresh items, a health bar, bakery and checkout.   

Market feel right at the entrance

The smell of fresh baked goods hits you right when you walk through the front door



Grab some flowers right by the checkout

Surprisingly wide selection of better for you items

Grab some leafy greens or just buy the plant!

The 2nd floor is a mix of food, bars and housewares. There’s a cool little Coffee Bar with Indian coffee varieties and specialty ways of brewing, including a Japanese method.  You can buy coffee to drink on the spot or beans to take home.

Cool little coffee bar

Around the corner from the Coffee bar are a Tea bar, Sweets bar and more typical rows of gondolas of grocery items.  They have wide assortments of honey, jams, teas and some traditional western snacks. 

For the (Tea) lovers

On the 3rd floor are a full restaurant and an industrial kitchen used for cooking classes.   The schedule for the cooking classes seemed chock full of great meal ideas. Shoppers can sign up and show up for the lesson.

Full service restaurant

A full calendar of events

You definitely deserve a coffee break for getting this far

Retailers in the U.S. should take notice, while Foodhall doesn’t get it perfect, it’s one of the better attempts we’ve seen toward this blend of grocery and experience. Eately is less everyday and Whole Foods and others with dining are too grocery. We are excited to see what Future Group can do on future iterations as they refine the concept.  

The day after shopping this store we met an old friend who is well connected in Indian retail. He mentioned “a team from Amazon” had just visited the store.  And suddenly a recent announcement made sense.   This is another move in India by Amazon. Last year they bought More, (a concept I worked on). Oh..and maybe the good people at Kroger were there too, with today’s announcement, who knows.

Our team walked away with inspiration and new ideas that we’ve undoubtedly brought to clients since the trip. We always think it’s a great use of time and resources to take a road trip and find some inspiration!  Stay tuned for thoughts from our next adventure.

If you have any comments or questions, send me a note: raj.shroff@pinesd.com

I had a few hours in Seattle last Sunday morning so I visited Go.

In case you’ve not been, you download the “Go” App, sign in using Amazon credentials and then scan your bar code into a turn style like device. I was with two other people so let them in and the three of us were now shopping under my Amazon account.

The store was smaller than I anticipated but overall a pretty nice, modern design. But while everyone seems to be reacting to the technology of just walking out, I couldn’t help but to think there’s something bigger here. In urban settings, the competitive set of quick and healthy food options generally means heading to a restaurant, getting food delivered or in big cities, heading to Whole Foods, a Co-Op or other local grocer. There aren’t m(any) convenient stores like Amazon Go which are so trusted, easy to get in and out of and offer healthy options that are prepared on the spot or nearby.

Walking away, I had visions of Amazon Go’s popping up on every street corner. Those visions had Amazon competing with Starbucks’ third place. And while we tend to think those third places need human associates to create warmth (think your name written on a cup), I would argue that digital natives might not have that strong of a need for the physical connection. For them, connections can be made through chat, text or streaming and the vibe from others in the space.

The Go has a really small dine-in area — technically it’s probably just a staging space where you can heat up food, get utensils, etc. But if they add a little bit more seating, suddenly you have a small and pleasant community hub, a space people visit daily. And, according to my friend John, maybe it’s the new community kitchen.

What I want you to takeaway is be weary of thinking that the Amazon Go story is solely about technology and checkout free stores. Sure, that’s part of it, but I would argue a smaller part than most assume.

It is nice to just walk out of a store. However, when automated checkout technology is ubiquitous, what’s going to bring you back again and again? The answer to that gives us a roadmap of where Amazon will Go.

Good Food Fast
I do, thanks for offering.
Sunday morning at 8 AM, time to restock

Glad to have finally checked the Go off my visit list, especially after a recent immersion trip to China. I’ll be excited to see what transpires from here. Shoot me an email if you have thoughts to share: raj.shroff@pinesd.com.

The PINE team has been spending some time in China. In our industry there is a lot of press and discussion on China. Alibaba, Ten Cent, Bingo Box, 1.4 billion people, cashless society and more.

We had been to China before but hadn’t seen the most recent changes. We decided to invest in ourselves and make the trip. If we aren’t willing to invest in ourselves how do can we sit across from clients asking them to invest in working with us? And if we don’t have rich experiences at a global level how will the work we are doing be the best possible for our clients? Somewhat rhetorical questions but you get the point. We lined up dates, found an Airbnb and bought our plane tickets. We knew the experience would take us out of our comfort zone, stretch us and help us grow.

For those who don’t know us, we are consultants. We advise brands in the areas of research, strategy and design; adding value that drives their businesses. We know consultants’ outputs are only as strong as their inputs; experiences, projects and problems solved. The answers and inspiration to impact a business aren’t on Google, they are not in the news and they are definitely not on social media.

So far, we’ve spent time with locals, business heads and old b-school friends and have tried to weave ourselves into the society during our stay (breakfast at Family Mart), with one of us indulging in the local delicacy of Chicken feet. All the while staying on top of our project work (the beauty of a connected world).

We even got the chance to facilitate a research session with an MNC exploring the Chinese Post 95 (those born after 95) consumer. The China they were born into is vastly different than previous generations.

We still have plans to spend time with some expats living in Shanghai, visit some more local Chinese retail and go to Hangzhou to visit the headquarters of Alibaba. Expect to hear more from us on what we have learned and if you have anything you think we should check out before we leave definitely let us know.

Btw, none of us has had the guts to try pig snout.